On 13 October, the feast of Our Lady of Fatima and the anniversary of the final apparition of Mary to the three peasant children at Fatima, Portugal, in 1917, Pope Francis will dedicate the world to the Immaculate Heart of Mary.
The Church has always understood that devotion and consecration to Mary are certain means of approaching Jesus, the Son of God.
The scriptural foundations of this belief are to be found in the words which Mary used at the wedding feast in Cana where Jesus performed his first miracle – apparently unwillingly – at the urgent request of his mother.
Mary alerted Jesus to the embarrassment of the hosts that the wine was about to run out, to which he responded, "What is that to me? My hour has not yet come." Mary then said to the servants at the marriage feast, "Do whatever he tells you!"
Jesus next told the servants to fill several large water jars to the brim, to draw out some and take it to the chief steward who tasted, not water, but the finest wine.
The Church interprets this extraordinary miracle as evidence that Jesus will do anything his mother asks of him.
At the foot of the cross, Jesus gave his faithful apostle John, representing the Church, to Mary: "Behold, this is your mother." And referring to John, he said to his mother, "This is your son."
Year of Faith
The Shrine of Our Lady of Fatima announced in early August that Pope Francis had asked for the original statue of Our Lady of Fatima to be brought to the Vatican for the dedication.
It said, "In response to the desire of Pope Francis, the Statue of Our Lady of the Rosary of Fatima ... will be brought to Rome on 12-13 October to be present at the Marian Day promoted by the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelisation.
"On 13 October, next to the Statue of Our Lady, Pope Francis will consecrate the world to the Immaculate Heart of Mary."
The Marian Day is a culmination of the Year of Faith which will bring to Rome hundreds of movements and institutes devoted to Mary.
This dedication also reflects the deep personal devotion which Pope Francis has to the Blessed Virgin.
Personal dedication to Mary has been a characteristic of religious orders such as the Cistercians, Benedictines and Carmelites for many centuries. But dedication to the Immaculate Heart of Mary began more recently, and was developed by a great master of the spiritual life, St Louis de Montfort.
It was further encouraged when Our Lady appeared to St Catherine Labouré in 1830, and asked that a medal be struck showing a picture of Our Lady on one side, and on the back, 12 stars, the cross and the capital letter M, along with the heart of Jesus enclosed in a crown of thorns and Our Lady's heart pierced through by a sword.
This recalled the words which Simeon said to Mary when the baby Jesus was presented in the Temple: "Behold, this Child is appointed for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and for a sign to be opposed – and a sword will pierce your own heart so that the secret thoughts of many may be revealed."
During her apparitions at Fatima at the height of World War I, Our Lady prophesied that unless the world returned to God, Russia would become a centre of revolution across the world, an even worse war would break out and the Church herself would be persecuted.
She told the three children, "God wishes to establish in the world devotion to my Immaculate Heart. If what I say to you is done, many souls will be saved and there will be peace."
The apparitions at Fatima were later endorsed by the Church, and commended by successive popes.
In her messages, the Virgin Mary specifically asked for the consecration of Russia to her Immaculate Heart and based on these messages, Popes Pius XII and John Paul II consecrated Russia and the world to the Virgin Mary.
In July 1952 Pope Pius XII specifically performed the Consecration of Russia to the Immaculate Heart of Mary via the Apostolic Letter, Sacro Vergente.
On 13 May 1967, the 50th anniversary of Our Lady of Fatima, Pope Paul VI visited Fatima, and issued the Apostolic Exhortation Signum Magnum in which he asked "all sons of the Church to renew their consecration to the Immaculate Heart of Mary".
On 13 May 1982 in Fatima, Pope John Paul II again consecrated the world to the Immaculate Heart of Mary and said: "Consecrating the world to the Immaculate Heart of Mary means drawing near, through the mother's intercession, to the very fountain of life that sprang from Golgotha. This fountain pours forth unceasingly redemption and grace. In it reparation is made continually for the sins of the world. It is a ceaseless source of new life and holiness."
In the Jubilee Year 1984, Blessed John Paul II arranged for the original statue of Our Lady of Fatima to be brought to St Peter's in Rome, where he consecrated the world to the Immaculate Heart of Mary.
On Sunday, 8 October 2000, upon the completion of the ceremonies for the Jubilee of the Bishops, John Paul II and the bishops consecrated and entrusted themselves and the Catholic Church in the new millennium to Mary.
And on 12 May 2010 at the Church of the Most Holy Trinity in Fatima, on the occasion of the 10th anniversary of the beatification of Jacinta and Francisco Marto, Pope Benedict XVI consecrated all priests to the Immaculate Heart of Mary.
Following the actions of his predecessors, Pope Francis is confirming and enhancing the Church's dedication to the Virgin Mary, on this very special occasion during the Year of Faith.